We had some torrential rain in Durham last night and early this morning staff at Lilly Library on East Campus reported water on the floor in the basement level. Facilities and Conservation Services quickly sprang into action to assess and respond to the needs of the affected collections.
Luckily no books were affected. Only some VHS tape cases and paperwork on a desk got wet, so we were able to set them out on tables with box fans and oscillating fans to dry.
A crew from AfterDisaster also quickly arrived and began removing water from the carpets, opening the bases of walls to allow the sheetrock to dry, and setting up dehumidifiers. One of the dangers to book and paper collections after flooding is elevated relative humidity (RH) for long periods of time. This can promote mold growth, so their efforts will ensure that the RH returns to normal levels quickly.
This is the second basement water event we have had in as many months, but in both cases we followed our disaster plan and our collections came through relatively unscathed. It’s great to work with such a great team!
Today we hosted a delightful group of grad students from a class that Liz Milewicz, Head of Digital Scholarship Services, is working with. They declared Conservation to be “The Best Tour Ever.” We kind of agree. Here we are looking at Kenneth Arrow’s Nobel Prize medal.We recently had the preparators from the Nasher Museum here to fit the Nobel medal for a custom display mount. We know this medal will get a lot of use so we are having a special display mount made for it. The Nobel Prize is something almost everyone has heard about but rarely do you get a chance to see one up close. It’s a special object to have in the lab for show-and-tell.
Collection materials are constantly being imaged over at the Digital Production Center to provide greater access to scholars around the world. All those materials undergo careful review by our staff before going under the camera, and some items need stabilizing repairs in order to be handled and imaged safely. The sheer quantity of requested material can easily overwhelm our full-time staff, so sometimes our part-time student employees can help with the quicker repairs. Helen Lee (pictured above) has been working in the lab for the past three years and has been trained in several kinds of paper repairs ideal for digitization prep. Today, she is using strips of pre-coated Japanese paper, which we make in the lab, to mend tears on archival material. She uses a small heated tacking iron through a barrier of silicone-coated paper to apply the repair strips.
Helen is graduating this semester and we are so sad to see her go! But it is rewarding to see students head off on new adventures and hopefully some of the preservation training she received here will come in handy along the way.
Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator for Special Collections, is currently working on an 18th century Spanish history of North America from the Rubenstein collection, which was badly eaten by insects at some point before it was acquired by the library.
The insect damage is so extensive in places that the book is very difficult to handle without causing further damage. In order to make this item accessible to researchers, Erin is applying strong, but reversible, mends of Japanese paper to infill each one of the losses. The color of the repair blends nicely with the original paper, so that it does not distract so much from the text.
The conservation treatment of this item will take a considerable amount of time, but it will ensure that a valuable resource is made available to patrons for many years to come. With all the requests for special collections items, either by scholars in the reading room, for our exhibitions, or for digitization, we work closely with our colleagues in Special Collections to prioritize treatment and make treatment decisions.
Sometimes you need to bring in expertise when faced with a particular challenge. Rachel is working with Brad Johnson and Patrick Krivacka from the Nasher Museum of Art to build a custom mount for Kenneth Arrow’s Nobel Prize medal. Today was the medal’s first fitting. They also discussed the finish for the stand and came to agreement on the height of the frame.
Kenneth Arrow was an economist, professor, and Nobel laureate. Arrow’s career is especially distinguished by his contributions to the theory of social choice, including his book Social Choice and Individual Values, published in 1951, and his contributions to general equilibrium theory. For these achievements, Professor Arrow has been awarded the Johns Bates Clark Medal (1957) and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics (1972), which he shared with Professor Sir John Hicks.
We are very excited that we will have a custom-fit stand so that the Nobel medal can be displayed in classes, show and tells, and exhibits. Thanks Patrick and Brad!
It’s Preservation Week! This week, we are looking at the daily life of a conservation department and the work we each do in support of the library and its mission. Yesterday we saw Mary in repairing a book with very cool end papers.
As a department head my job is to make sure we have the budgetary and human resources that we need to do our work, advocate for my staff and department, and make sure our priorities fit into the strategic direction of the library. To that end, I attend a lot of meetings.
Duke Libraries has a culture of collaboration, so we do a lot of talking with each other. My standing meetings include departmental and individual staff meetings; Technical Services Department Head meetings; meetings with my supervisor; the monthly all-library staff meeting; the Multi-spectral Imaging team meeting; quarterly division meetings; and meetings with other department heads outside of Technical Services usually over lunch or coffee. Then there are special meetings that are called around projects or initiatives, budget setting, and other administrative duties. Then there are the meetings that happen on the fly at the bus stop, in the hallway, or in the cafe line.
By attending these meetings I am gathering the information I need for the department to be successful, I’m building relationships across the library, and I am also finding out what is happening in other departments that might impact our workflow. I know for some people all these meetings sounds like torture, but I rather enjoy getting together with colleagues to think about our collaborative future. And sometimes you get doughnuts.
It’s Preservation Week! In an effort to raise awareness of the need for preservation of all kinds, every day this week we will highlight one of the many ways our staff support collections at Duke University Libraries. Our first stop is the circulating collection.
Today Senior Conservation Technician Mary Yordy is working on a mesmerizing book in need of some help.
This visual album about Barneys New York shows a common problem with modern art books: the flimsy case construction of the binding just doesn’t stand up to the weight of the textblock. While it is down here in the lab, Mary will repair the rear hinge of the book, rejoining the text to the binding and allowing it to function again for many more circulations.
The publisher of this item really went all out with the endpapers and “chameleon” metallic edge treatment!
Conservator Erin Hammeke has been working with History of Medicine Curator, Rachel Ingold and SMIF Research and Development Engineer, Justin Gladman to facilitate the scanning of our 22 ivory manikins using a High Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Scanner (Micro CT scanner). These high resolution 3-D scans allow us to see internal components of the manikins, thoroughly document them and their component parts, and also to create 3D printed models to allow for unfettered access and handling of surrogate manikins by patrons. So far, we have imaged over half of the collection of 22 manikins to date over 7 imaging sessions.
Conservation’s support for this project has been a team effort. First we researched the safety of the process for ivory and component parts. Then we thought through the logistics of ensuring their physical safety and security during imaging. Over the past year, Conservation Specialist, Rachel Penniman has been carefully boxing each of the manikins in terrific custom padded artifact boxes (see Quick Pic: Boxing Near-Naked Ladies) to assist with their safe transport to the SMIF facility on campus. After transport to SMIF, Erin unpacks the manikins and removes their parts before securely wrapping them in low density material to support the manikin during the 20-30 minute scan. Thanks to Beth for sewing custom foam supports for this project!
Smaller, removable internal organs are imaged in separate scans to enable an adjustment to the scanning resolution and isolation of the component parts in the digital scan and 3D print.
This photos shows some of the ways in which Erin strapped and supported a manikin with a loose arm during scanning, as well as still images from the scan that show internal metal fasteners and repairs that are not visible upon external examination.
And here is an example of a 3D print of one of our solid manikins showing fantastic detail.
Keep an eye out for a more in depth Duke News story about the project by science writer Robin Smith, PhD.
A 12th century Latin manuscript was brought down to the lab yesterday and we all had to stop work for a few minutes to ogle the colorful stitching used to piece together some of the leaves.
Parchment can be oddly shaped or become damaged during production, so it was a common medieval practice to mend or patch the leaves with colorful thread. Sometimes you can tell that the stitching was done before the scribe started writing. For example, this column of text just continues around the thread.
The colors of the thread are so intense that I began to wonder if they were original. What pigments or dyes could make such a vibrant yellow/green color? A few years ago, Beth had taken Cheryl Porter’s workshop, Recreating the Medieval Palette, and just happened to have the color swatches they made on hand. You can read some excellent reviews of that workshop here and here.
The buckthorn and cochineal are actually pretty close matches to the colors of the thread in our manuscript. Being closed inside a book would also have protected them from light exposure and potentially fading. If you’d like to see more examples of colorful stitching in medieval books, check out this post from Erik Kwakkel or the post it inspired on Colossal.
On a gloomy Los Angeles morning earlier this week, I rode a driver-less tram up to the Getty Center to attend a one day seminar on Microfade Testing (MFT).
Speakers from institutions around the world discussed how they have been using this technology in recent years to support exhibits programs and make informed decisions about safely displaying cultural heritage material. The seminar concluded with demonstrations of several designs of MFT equipment, like the system pictured below.
It was such a delight to talk with other conservators about how they are using technologies like this in their own institutions. While I was able to learn a great deal about the application and some limitations of MFT, many questions remain about how we might successfully implement it here at Duke. In the meantime, the seminar highlighted some research opportunities that we can begin pursuing with technology we already have on hand, like multispectral imaging.